So instead of me going on this week long tour of South America, I flew straight up to California and Long Beach. There I had the full attention of Will Dungl for about a week, before Niki and the rest of the tribe arrived back from South America. As that week went on, my physical condition improved. I was never a natural runner, but I began to run better, and all the things that basically equate to fitness were improving, like heart rate and recovery rate.
Niki eventually arrived back and joined in, but that trip had been an arduous one, and I think he’d picked up hepatitis or something of that nature. It wasn’t affecting him immediately, but he wasn’t 100 per cent. And I was. During the second week, my strength increased – not just physical strength, but mental strength – and that’s where so much of a driver’s performance comes from. I felt I’d grown over that two week period between Brazil and going to practice in Long Beach.
At that point we were running Michelin tyres and they were more suitable to the kind of energy that a Renault turbo car would put through the rear wheels. In Long Beach, where part of the surface was concrete, we just couldn’t get the things to work, because the DFV-powered MP4/1C was extremely light on its tyres – especially when in qualifying configuration. The inevitable conclusion was that we qualified 22nd and 23rd. It drove Ron and John Barnard almost to distraction – always blame it on the drivers, as they say.
Then, as usual on Sunday morning, with a full fuel load on board, the times were there and I was flying. We were putting energy into the tyre, which was generating heat. Now I could really drive the car, steer it anywhere on the race track. There was a particular Michelin, the ’05’, which was always more consistent for me, whereas Niki always sought to take advantage from something which was marginally quicker, but was not so adaptable to the circumstances and conditions.
He had potentially slightly more grip than me, but I had the mental strength plus the knowledge that my good old ’05’ Michelin would last the race. I could stay on it all the way.